Listen in to hear College Conference East 2016 workshop speaker Fr. Nicholas Belcher describe the Orthodox understanding of what it means to be saved and who Jesus Christ really is.
Last week, we discovered that to respond to the gift of grace, we must ask Jesus to “come and see” the sins that lie within our hearts. And that, as He did with Lazarus, Jesus will call us forth into Life.
Incredibly, the final time we find “come and see” in the gospels, it is again at a tomb. This time, it is at the Lord’s tomb that an angel tells the myrrhbearers, “come and see where He laid” (Mt 28:6). They find not a dead, rotting body, but an empty tomb. They hear from the angel, “He is risen.”
This is the final destination of each disciple of Christ–to follow Christ unto death and to be raised again with Him.
But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. –Rm 6:8-11
Once we we have come to Christ, learned who He is, and allowed Him to see our own brokenness, we spend a lifetime crucifying the flesh and its passions (Gal 5:24) so that on the day of judgement, we, too, will rise into eternal Life. We spend our lives becoming dead to sin and alive to God.
It is not an easy path to ascend the Cross, but it is a path that Jesus walked Himself first and which we walk by His strength (Phil 4:13). It is a path which we can have confidence finds its end not in the grave but in the proclamation, “Christ is risen!”
So when we tell someone, “come and see,” I hope we mean more than come and see the artifacts of our faith, the incense and icons and liturgical movements. I hope it is more than a cop-out to having an explanation for who we are as Orthodox Christians. “Come and see” is an invitation to dwell where God dwells, to know Jesus as our Savior, to confess our sins and be healed, and ultimately, to complete the race blameless, entering into eternal Life which comes only from the One Who is risen. It’s an invitation open to all and which we are compelled to share with everyone we can.
But first, we must answer ourselves.
So come and see. Find out where the Lord lives, desire to be in His presence, bring Him your doubts, get to know Him yourself in prayer, let Him see who you really are, confess your sins to Him, and unite yourself to His death and resurrection. Become a disciple of Jesus Christ. Come, dear ones. Come and see.
As we have seen, the first two callings of “come and see” are both directed toward a new disciple. First, to come and see the place where Christ dwells and then to come and see for oneself who He really is. The third “come and see,” however, is different.
As Jesus nears His own crucifixion, His friend Lazarus dies and is laid in a stone tomb. Lazarus’ sisters come to Him, weeping over the death of their brother. They doubt that His presence will do any good at this point because Lazarus has been dead four days and the sweet smell of the spices that were used to anoint his body have worn off revealing the real stench of death. They weep at His feet and reprimand Him for not coming sooner.
Jesus seemingly remains unconcerned as he gets nearer to the tomb, continually reminding Mary and Martha of who He is.
Finally, He asks them, “Where have you laid him?” and they respond, “Lord, come and see.”
The third “come and see” of the gospels is an invitation for the Lord to come and see the wages of sin, to confront the death and corruption that plagues humanity–that plagues each of us.
It is an invitation we must extend to Jesus knowing that we are Lazarus, dead four days and stinking from our own sins within the stone tomb of our harden hearts. Experience (the first come and see) and knowledge (the second) of Christ are gifts of grace, freely offered by Him to those who will receive Him.
What is required of us is to respond.
And we respond by asking Jesus to come and see the sins that bind us like Lazarus in the grave no matter how foul we may think they have become. What is asked of us is that we weep bitterly, like Mary at her brother’s tomb, over the death that is within us.
When they reach the tomb, Jesus, confronted with the death of His friend and the end result of humanity’s fallen state, joins Mary in her lament. And then, incredibly and in spite of the doubts and disgust of the crowd, He asked for the tomb to be opened, and He calls the rotting Lazarus out of the tomb and into Life.
So too it is with our hearts when we truly and honestly invite Jesus to come and see what lies within. He takes away the stony hardness of our hearts, and He does not flinch at the stench of the dead man who lies therein. Instead, He weeps with us, His own heart breaking to know what tragedies we suffer at our own hands, and then He calls forth the real man saying, “Loose him, and let him go,” freeing us from the grave clothes of our the sins which bind us and offering to us True Life in Him.
Last week we talked about the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” where He lived, and we established that to become a disciple is first to be near to the Lord and experience Him in His own home.
This week, we take a look at what happens right after this first “come and see” calling. Immediately after John’s two disciples spend the evening with Jesus, a Galilean game of telephone begins as Andrew goes to find Peter, and after being called by Jesus, Philip goes to find Nathanael. Andrew declares, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip says, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Pretty hefty claims.
It’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the testimony of Philip, no matter how enthusiastic, was not enough to convince Nathanael. He’s not only not convinced that Jesus is the Messiah, but he’s not convinced it is possible for someone that important to come from such a scripturally unimportant (and sometimes disreputable) town like Nazareth.
Amazingly, Philip is not taken aback by Nathanael’s doubts nor does he try to further convince him. He simply tells him, “Come and see.” He is neither offended that Nathanael may not believe him nor is he shaken in his own decision to follow Jesus. It’s as if he says, “You don’t have to believe me. I’m convinced. Come see for yourself and decide.”
As an aside, there’s an important lesson here about evangelism. First, it’s important to notice that “come and see” only follows Philip’s willingness to seek out his friend and boldly declare to him that he has found the Savior. But once he’s given the testimony of his own encounter with the Lord, Philip allows Nathanael the freedom to come and see for himself–or not.
Philip invites Nathanael to get to know Jesus, and Nathanael comes. Though he has heard the testimony of his friend, like Thomas after the resurrection, Nathanael needs to meet Jesus himself.
To meet Jesus and discover experientially that He is the Messiah, the Savior, is essential to becoming a disciple of Christ. No one is made a believer on the testimony of others alone. You have to meet Jesus yourself by coming to Him. And while we may not be able to walk down the road from our shady fig tree to find Him, we can meet Jesus in prayer. Even a tentative or doubt-filled prayer is a vehicle for encountering the Lord. Nathanael probably wasn’t walking down the road actually expecting to meet the Messiah; in fact, he probably thought the end result of his excursion with Philip would end in disappointment, in nothing. But he made the walk anyway just to see. He carried his doubts right to the feet of the Lord.
And when Nathanael got near to Jesus, while he was still a bit down the road, Jesus called out to him, praising him for his righteous doubt and for his willingness to meet Him anyway. He tells Nathanael that He already knows about his doubts because He saw him when he was under the fig tree.
So come. Don’t be afraid to carry your doubts and your questions with you, but come. If with authenticity and honesty you approach Jesus, He will honor you from far off, coming to you and offering you His salvation so that you of your own accord, with Nathanael, can declare, “You are the Son of God.”
What do Adam and Eve in Paradise, Global Climate Change, and Great Lent have in common? … Trees. And that’s how our weekend began.
Recently, the OCF at the County College of Morris, a newly chartered OCF chapter, hosted their first Pan-Orthodox OCF/Young Adult Weekend Retreat around the topic of Living in God’s Creation. The weekend was filled with fellowship, worship, learning, and stream wading.
OCFers from different areas of NJ and out of state gathered together to learn about how to live in the world as God’s Creation. Like ourselves, all of creation is sanctified by its relationship to God. Dr. Elizabeth Theokritoff, the keynote speaker and author of Living in God’s Creation: Orthodox Perspectives on Ecology, had everyone explore the depth of Creation in relationship to its Creator and challenged every student to serve other creatures, animate and inanimate, the way that Christ serves us. Dr. Elizabeth said that from every tree we are supposed to pick the same fruit: God.
In a world that is riddled by the problems of global climate change and has an increasing awareness of how we as humans are treating the earth, we were reminded that Christ calls us to “love our neighbors as ourselves,” while with the same love of neighbor we must keep in mind that what and how much we are using is impacting someone else. “Turning the lights on isn’t a sin, but our actions reflect Creation as whole,” we were reminded by Dr. Theokritoff. We are called to be stewards of Creation, to view and use the resources of the world around us in awe; as the Creation of God. Elder Aimilianos challenges us “to do every task as if preparing for Holy Communion.” The Eucharist means thanksgiving and thankfulness in everything, which is the opposite of extravagance and waste.
Next time you turn on the lights or the faucet or pick a red, ripe strawberry, offer the purposeful creation up to God and thank Him for everything we have been given to use, with a sustainable heart of offering and doxology.
Spyridoula Fotinis is a freshmen at the County College of Morris, studying International Studies. She was instrumental in starting the OCF on campus, which is flourishing and attended by people of all Faiths, even those who do not adhere to a Faith. She loves seeing the love of Christ at work on her campus and in every person around her.